Perhaps it was because today is Labor Day, or perhaps it was because Nike decided to reserve one of the check-in lanes for their employees, but I had yet to experience such a long line at PDX—the line zig-zagged and eventually wrapped around and ended somewhere beyond my periphery.
About an hour later, I was at the gate with a bit more than an hour to spare. One enjoyable phone conversation later, I looked up to see that my flight was delayed, causing some concern as I had scheduled my connecting flights roughly an hour after each other. Would this be the one circumstantial cause that ends my trip prematurely? I thought to myself.
Nope. As it turns out, everything would still flow smoothly. I took a breath.
This past week, I’ve had to explain my project to friends and family more times than I can remember, and each time I do so, I realize with more urgency how incredibly strange it sounds. Here’s a typical conversation:
“So… why are you going to China?”
“I’ll be researching contemporary Chinese tea culture.”
“So like, how tea is made?”
“That’s part of it, but also how people have been writing about tea and presenting it. I’m interested in how people conceptualize tea, what it means, and how to best prepare it.”
“And this is free?”
“I’m getting paid.”
“You’re getting paid to go to China so that you can chat with people and drink good tea?”
“Sort of—it’s research. I’ll spend a lot of time reading books, and I’ll be auditing classes too.”
“Well… have fun!”
I feel like when I arrive in China, I will have a similar conversation as I try to explain what a Fulbright grant is to my Chinese classmates and advisors. Although, as a close friend has pointed out, I’d probably fit in so well that people might not even assume that I’m from the US. If anything, my Teochew/Cantonese-accented Mandarin might associate me with being from some village in Guangdong than the US. Perhaps that’s for the best.